The Trail Blazers’ four-game winning streak came to end in a 116-113 loss to the Nuggets. Jusuf Nurkic struggled with foul trouble throughout the night, while Nikola Jokic finished with 40 points. Tonight’s contest featured several lead changes and a tightly contested fourth quarter. Both teams scrambled for loose balls, and point guard Jamal Murray played with a Nurkic-caused bloody lip for the majority of the game. In the end, a combined 44-point performance from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum wasn’t enough to lead the Blazers to victory in the well-defended Pepsi Center.
Early Signs of Trouble
Nurkic struggled to navigate through the whistles for the majority of the game. The early portion of the first quarter featured several one-on-one battles between Nurkic and Jokic. Unfortunately for the Blazers, Nurkic was forced to exit halfway through the quarter with two fouls. Once he left, the Nuggets found success in the paint with ease. Denver finished with a 18-8 points in the paint advantage in the first period, and maintained an eye-popping shooting percentage of 65.2. If it wasn’t for some stellar three-point shooting, the Blazers could have easily been in a much bigger hole.
Tough to Contain
Jokic’s multi-faceted skill set makes him an absolute matchup nightmare. Tonight, he had it all working. With Nurkic off the court, Jokic bullied Al-Farouq Aminu on the block. When forced out of the paint, he found open teammates and connected on four of his seven shots from beyond the arc.
Joined by former Blazers center Mason Plumlee in the post, Jokic pulled off a dazzling pick-and-roll set. With the ball in his hands, Jokic deftly created space off a Plumlee screen that ended with a easy dunk for the former Duke standout. There aren’t many big men that possess the offensive arsenal that Jokic has, and his 40-point outburst was proof of that tonight.
Inside and Out
Evan Turner did a superb job of exploiting his size advantage over Murray in the post. After a few successful sequences, the Nuggets flirted with sending additional help to slow down Turner. On the perimeter, McCollum recovered from a two-point first half to finish with 18 points. With Denver’s defenders off balance, 12 of McCollum’s 16 second half points came by way of three-pointers.
Steady Comes Up Short
Nurkic’s foul trouble limited him to just 12 points and 25 minutes. After a string of four 20-point games, the big fella has failed to cross that threshold in his last three outings.
Jake Layman got rolling with an early alley-oop finish courtesy of a perfect pass from Nurkic. That bucket kicked off an efficient night for Layman. He finished with 13 points and went 5-6 from the field.
Nurkic wasn’t the only one to struggle with fouls, as Zach Collins picked up four in 14 minutes of action. On the positive side, Collins connected on two of his three shots from distance to finish with eight points.
The Blazers return to action on Monday to face the Kings.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com